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THOUGHTS

Welcome to the THOUGHTS section of the New Forest Yogis site which I have dedicated to sharing some of my musings on a variety of topics as regards to yoga as well as experiences that have impacted my life and health in the hope that others can learn from my journey so far...

THOUGHTS
Wild Path
My Journey

My yogic journey (so far)

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“Yoga is not just weight-loss program,

it is a science to make you feel lighter.

You lose mental stuff of anger, jealousy, hatred, greed, etc.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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Mandala flower
There are no shortcuts.

There are no shortcuts.

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“Anyone who practices can obtain success in yoga but not one who is lazy.  Constant practice alone is the secret of success

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

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Imagine your body
Using a Touch Phone

Imagine your body is an iPhone...

Practicing yoga has been a lifeline for me over the past few years and it has resulted in significant changes to my life and to my health. The question that I have been struck by is how did these massive changes come about?  After all, looking at the practice from a very modern, practical and even pessimistic perspective, how can the action of making weird shapes with the body and chanting in an unfamiliar language create such an effect? Not only have I gained a physical body that I am happy with but I have also gained a calmer, more centred attitude, as well as an awareness of myself and the people around me.  

As time has passed and my understanding of what yoga is has grown, it strikes me as amazing that I have come as far as i have despite not having a complete understanding from the beginning.  How is that possible?  In fact, these questions were one of the reasons that I underwent yoga teacher training so as to better understand the philosophy and the functional physical aspects of yoga.  I can, of course, delve into the depth of yogic lore, philosophy and functional anatomy in order to answer but for those out there who are new to the practice, there is a very simple way to think about yoga which I realised after a few years of practicing as my own understanding developed.

PICTURE THIS: Think about the iPhone with all its' myriad apps that can do so many things for you. From entertainment to organisation, from helping you to sleep and waking you in the mornings, the possibilities of the iPhone (or maybe I should say smart phone but at heart I am an Apple girl!) seem to be endless.  Now, think about how it works.  Can you explain how? Unless you are a programmer, you probably can't.  Most of us don't really know how the iPhone really works or how the apps do what they do but we reap the benefits nonetheless.  You know that when you select the alarm app, you set a time for your wake up call and it rings at the appointed hour.  Or when you press on the weather app, it will tell you everything about the temperature, wind and chance of rain at that time and for the coming day in your area.  Do you really care how it works or has it become so much a part of your life that you don't really think about it anymore?  Now, substitute the word body for "iPhone" and yoga asana (pose) for the term "iPhone app" - the logic is the same.  It works whether you know the mechanics of it or not.  This analogy can also be taken further since the body, just like an iPhone, needs to be recharged on a regular basis or it ceases to work, and that is, after all, the main function of yoga with all its seemingly mysterious chanting and breathing - to recharge the body.

LET'S EXAMINE AN EXAMPLE: When you sit in a Sukhasana pose and practice Kapalabhati (i.e. sit with crossed legs and breathe with alternating short forced exhales and slower passive inhales), you are selecting the "app" that will  strengthen your back and open your hips while you are also learning to control your breath even as you are energising your nervous system, stimulating your abdominal organs, tightening your core and also stimulating the creative part of your brain. 

In other words, for each pose you place your body in (each app you select) or each time you practice breath work, you access multiple functions and benefits and give your body a boost of energy...

 

so SELECT, PRESS + ENJOY!

NAMASTE

Article posted on 13th April, 2021

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Wood Pencil and Notebook
The Power of Pen to Paper

The Power of Pencil to Paper

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Can you recommend?
Yoga Mat and Straps

Can you recommend...?

Yoga practitioners can consider themselves very lucky in that, when it comes down to the very basics, you don’t really need anything to practise yoga.  Theoretically, you can roll out of bed and while still in your pyjamas, sit on the floor, breathe and meditate and VOILA! Even practising asana does not require any specialised equipment if you know what you are doing and you have a non-slip surface available to you.  But, like most everything in our modern lives, humans have come up with a lot of ways and things that somehow become a MUST HAVE.  Yoga is no different and even though I prefer to keep things as simple as possible, I have found that there are quite a few things that do make the practise easier, safer and more enjoyable.  This is especially true post-pandemic since many now prefer to attend classes online. Here are some of my suggestions and recommendations .

 

CLOTHING:

Like with everyday clothing, fashion plays a huge part in the decision as to what you should wear to practise yoga.  The general guideline his simply to wear clothing that is non-restrictive and comfortable and allows you full range of motion.  Which styles you wish to choose are entirely up to you and there are an abundance of choices available in terms of style and brands.  Maybe you prefer straight leg loose pants that are tied around or just below the waist whilst others prefer yoga leggings that are sweat wicking and bum-sculpting.  The same can be said of tops / bras / t-shirts… I think you see where I am coming from.  I cannot tell you what you will find to your liking but here are my personal choices: 

Leggings: (a) LuluLemon Align Pants — they are soft and non-restrictive and are just the right weight and don’t feel bulky as well as being good for the summer and the winter.  They come in a fantastic range of colours and different lengths and do not have the usual string around the waist (which can be a problem if you have a belly ring like I do) or give an uncomfortable compressed feeling to the belly.  Be sure to try before you buy since the sizing is American (even though the company is Canadian).

(b) Sweaty Betty Seamless Yoga Leggings — these are a little more bulky than the Align but you feel like you’re wrapped in a softly knitted cloud and have a cosy feel as well as being non-restrictive; plus they sit well on the hips and waist without having a string to cinch them in. Unfortunately not available all year round but the bonus is you’re buying from a British brand.

Tops: My choice will always go to longer line vests that end at the hips and have a built in bra.  My all time favourites are the Sweaty Betty Namaskar vests (which unfortunately have been discontinued - hint hint SB!) with the Sweaty Betty Seamless Yoga Vest coming a close second (though you will need to buy them a size smaller than you normally would or risk falling out of them mid-inversion - I speak from embarassing experience).

For those of you who like really soft and breathable fabrics, the Asquith range of bamboo clothing is definitely worth an honourable mention in both leggings and tops.

 

YOGA MATS:

As simple as life should be, a yoga mat really should be high on your list of priorities and one you should splurge on if yoga is a regular thing for you.  As with everything else, each practitioner will probably tell you something different.  Instead of just asking opinions, ask if you can try out those belonging to friends or fellow yogis.  Grip, thickness, weight, size, color - they all make a difference and it is a personal thing.  As for my recommendation, I am definitely a liforme yogi (most of the photos of me on this site, I am using one).  If you go regularly to a yoga studio, you have probably seen at least one since they have a distinctive alignment system so you are always sure where you place your feet and hands as well as having a superb grip that doesn’t depend on it or your hands being dry.  They have recently invested in manufacturing various colours and styles and you can even design your own mat. As a plus, if you’re reading this, and you want to invest a few £££s more in a mat, you can use the following link to get 10% off your first purchase. Another item from Liforme that I love are the yoga pads which I use to give me a bit of extra length or extra padding under my knees when needed. Just remember, whatever you choose, whether a £25 sticky mat from Yoga Matters, a Liforme mat or any other out there, make sure you have something underneath you to keep you safe from slipping. Towels are not a safe choice and you are better on a wood floor with no mat than a just a towel! Carpets are also not a good or safe option.

 

PROPS:

There are so many different props available that you can kind of get lost in the choices you have - not to mention the money you can spend and then, of course, you have to think about where you can store it all…  Again, depending on who you ask, some yogis will say that props are unnecessary while others will tell you they are essential.  My take? Certain props can be a great help in helping you to get your alignment to where it needs to be and give you support and / or a lift when needed.  These are props that I have found to be the most useful to me, in order of “importance”.

 

(1) Yoga Blocks / Bricks - from support underneath you when getting into a bridge pose if you have back issues or to place under your hand when moving into a half moon and your fingers don’t quite reach the floor or to place them under your hip in a pigeon pose… their uses are varied and not just for “beginners”.  Over time, I have invested in multiple options made of different materials depending what pose / position I am in (for example, in a supported bridge, I utilise a pair of cork bricks and for seated poses, I love the thin foam blocks to help get my hips and back into the correct alignment).  A special mention for the Sweaty Betty foam blocks which have just the right amount of give to them without being too hard and are light enough to take with you to a studio if needed.  Check out YogaMatters for a full range of choices and inspiration.  For those of you out there that suffer from wrist pain, I would definitely recommend a pair of cork wedges which will help relieve the weight on your wrists in all-fours positions and downward dog. 

At home alternatives: a hardback coffee table book for the thinner blocks or a sturdy tupperware.

 

(2) Yoga Strap - for helping you to get into a forward seated stretch if needed or into a more complicated bound position, straps are really useful and are easily adjustable in length. I suggest you opt for a thicker Cotton D-Ring Belt like those available at YogaMatters.  Another version of the belt are the loops such as the infinity strap but go for the cotton version in the medium length. These are very different from resistance bands which are elastic.  If part of your practise requirement is to help build strength, especially in the arms, resistance bands are another good addition to your equipment cupboard. 

At home alternatives: a long sock or the belt from a towel robe or dressing gown.

 

(3) Pilates Ball - OK, this is not a yogi prop but it is always useful, especially if you have a bad back.  Use it between your knees when reclined on your back for pelvic tilts to help stabilise your lower lumbar region - pure magic! Just make sure you buy a small one… 

At home alternatives: A square cushion that you can fold to give a bit of spring or even a foam yoga brick if you have one.

 

(4) Bolster - with bolsters, we begin to enter the realm of “want it” as opposed to "need it" but if you practise yin yoga, then these definitely fall into the "need it" category.  Also, placing a bolster under you upper thighs when in savasana is pure heaven.  I use the standard cotton rounded yoga bolster but you can choose different patterns with fillings such as hemp or buckwheat if you are so inclined. 

At home alternatives: A firm couch cushion that can provide you with support.

 

(4) Yoga Blanket - I hear you asking “are you serious?” to this option but, again, they are useful in providing a bit of lift in certain positions such as shoulder stands and during yin yoga where they can be invaluable or even folding them underneath your hips while meditating.  The cotton versions are soft, cozy and easy to wash.  Plus, they are really great to use during your final savasana to keep you from getting chilled especially if you have just completed a sweaty session.. 

At home alternatives: take your pick of any blanket or throw you have around the house!

(5) Eye Pillow - Once again comes the obvious question "What on earth...?" But don't dismiss the possibility of using these yet... These are small, lightly weighted rectangular bags that you place over your eyes during savasana. Yes, I know - eye pillows are not strictly necessary, but, like yoga blankets, they feel great to use. They block out light to help you relax and the weight feels really comforting. There are also versions out there which are lavender scented to help you relax even more - pure bliss!

At home alternatives: a towel or t-shirt that you can fold over your eyes and forehead leaving your nose exposed while using a dab of lavender essential oil on your temples at the same time...

(6) Sandbags / Yoga Weights -- If you practice Iyengar and Yin, sandbags can be integral to your practise since they are an invaluable aid in keeping your limbs aligned (for example, a sandbag over your lower back/sacrum while practising locust pose or when in child's pose can be a game changer). The disadvantage to having these is that they may take up space you do not have so I place these under the category of optional.

At home alternatives: a folded / zippered pillowcase filled with dried beans or sand / very fine gravel from the garden shed. You can even sew your own if you're handy with a needle or sewing machine but remember to keep the weight to 5kgs and no more!

 

(7) Yoga Wheel - For back bends and as an aid to getting into the wheel pose, I love it.  Also useful for those that practise Dharma Yoga. However, they are not cheap and not easily transportable. Choose one that has a basic grip or cork and avoid funky corrugated versions. 

At home alternatives: none that I can think of unless you have a extra large pilates ball...

 

(8) Yoga Chair - If you have back issues or want to use a chair to help your inversion training, a yoga chair is not a bad investment due to its stable design.  But, I will confess, of all the props I have, this has only been used a handful of times which is nothing considering I am on my mat ever day. 

At home alternatives: a sturdy chair that has non slip feet but be careful using these for inversions.

 

(9) Feet Up Yoga Stool - if you like to practise inversions and you find them challenging to get into and hard on the head and neck, then these feet-up stools are certainly an option.  This is one of the few pieces of kit that did not make into into my equipment cupboard due to lack of space but I have used them and they are fun. 

At home alternatives: a wall space and bricks - although not quite the same but you can’t have everything.

 

(10) Other Props - this category includes yoga swings for aerial yoga and wall ropes… With these, they are best used in a yoga studio with the proper training and supervision and in my opinion NOT for a home practice.

 

Whatever choices you make in regards to what you wear, which mat you use or the props you pick, the most important thing is to have a safe and sustainable practise that becomes a part of your lifestyle.

NAMASTE

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